“Ghosts of the Land” combines history and fiction

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Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Biographer and journalist David Roybal was a young high school reporter in northern New Mexico for one of the landmark events in the state’s history.

The Tierra Amarilla courthouse raid in 1967, which highlighted the disparities in a tricultural society, is one of the many events that permeate “Ghosts of the Land”, Roybal’s short story and his first jump in The fiction.

Dressed in jeans, a blue shirt and scarf with a gray vest to match her curly hair, Roybal, 69, passionately detailed the inspirations for her work in an interview last week in Santa Fe.

One reader has compared “Ghosts” to the magical realism of the great Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez.

Roybal is a traveling encyclopedia of the culture, people, and events of northern New Mexico. “If people trust you, they will open up to you,” Roybal said, espousing a principle of journalism. His career began over 50 years ago when he began writing local sports stories for the Santa Fe New Mexican as a student at Espanola High School.

Subtitled ‘No Borders for Death, Love and Conflicting Dreams’, the short story’ deals with the barely concealed tensions between the diverse cultures of the region which spans an international border, a region that once belonged to to Spain, then to Mexico before the United States seized it. like his in 1848, ”writes Roybal in the preface. “This life in Mexico permeates the stories told in the following pages only reflects the inevitable and at times uncomfortable bond between two neighboring nations,” he wrote.

Reies Tijerina, the fiery Pentecostal preacher, and staunch supporters of his Alianza movement made national headlines with the June 1967 armed takeover of the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in which a state police officer been shot as they demanded that the wrongs done on Spanish land concessions be righted.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which ended the Mexican-American War and gave the United States a vast expanse of the present-day southwestern states, guaranteed the property rights of Mexican subjects who were previously subjects Spanish before Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821.

Tijerina’s efforts were not universally accepted. Many residents and politicians of northern New Mexico downplayed the importance of Tijerina’s rants as “tonterías” or “madness,” Roybal said.

“Tijerina and her courthouse raid basically got me hooked on journalism,” Roybal said. The raid plays into its fiction “a lot in terms of the background, if not nothing else,” he said. Taking photos and notes, Roybal was tasked with covering the raid alongside seasoned editor Jim Maldonado and the event showed the young journalist the importance of speaking Spanish “and learning to communicate with others. who spoke Spanish “.

Roybal lives with his wife, Marlena, in a four-room adobe house in Cundiyó that his grandfather completed in 1911, the year before New Mexico became a state. His grandparents had 14 children, including Roybal’s mother, and he remembers family meals in the little house as a child.

Every Sunday, “I would sit and listen to grandparents and uncles tell fantastic stories, always in Spanish. He then devoted himself to learning the mother tongue. The house eventually disappeared from the family, but Roybal then saw a newspaper ad for the house and he traded his Santa Fe home for it.

Writing books – and he prefers non-fiction – is Roybal’s labor of love. Through David Roybal Communications, which broke the news, he said he finds satisfaction in the connections he is making with residents of the small mountain communities near Cundiyó. Roybal gave a copy of “Ghosts” to the Truchas Library for its permanent collection, and the librarian emailed him asking for help identifying the people in the photographs of his previous five non-fiction books.

“These people suddenly feel like they matter, that they matter… and that’s fantastic,” Roybal said.

His hope and belief is that the “ghosts” will have social significance beyond New Mexico and the Southwest, and a recent memo indicates that the veracity of the news struck a chord across the country.

A woman from New Hampshire bought a copy from the gift shop at Rancho Chimayó restaurant and Roybal received a note from her, saying, “I hope this book finds a national audience as it has national significance in its history.” social relevance, ”Roybal said, paraphrasing.

Roybal mixes, in a two-pronged approach, a mystery with the protagonist and Rio Arriba County sheriff, Jimmy Silva, trying to solve the murder of an elderly rancher who smacks of the land grant problem, with a pantheon of people actual people named in the book, including Barack Obama, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, Freddy Fender and New Mexico politicians Emilio Naranjo, Toney Anaya and Jerry Apodaca. “Ghosts” brings “fiction to provocatively close to real life,” Roybal said.

The book is embellished with quintessentially New Mexican photographs, many of which were taken by Roybal, such as huge piles of firewood, snow-covered Tierra Amarilla adobes, and weathered faces of ancianos.

“Ghosts” is multi-layered. “If cultural preservation is a common thread in the book, so is preservation of the environment,” Roybal wrote in an email. “I linked them in an attempt to show how common interests can often get lost in the midst of competing approaches,” he wrote.

Immigration is also a subplot. “The story tells how, with immigration, as with so many other issues, the rich and influential often have access to paths that so many others can only dream of,” Roybal wrote. “If, in tackling this problem, I was able to convey a little bit of an idea of ​​life in Mexico, then so much the better. “

Roybal spends time in the Mexican state of Nayarit, where he has a home and has been recognized by state education officials there “for his contribution to education in Mexico,” according to the notes. of the book.

In 2008, he was able to acquire 235 used computers from schools in Santa Fe and a law firm in Albuquerque, which were transported to the border where the Mexican authorities delivered them to Nayarit and they were distributed. in vocational schools, Roybal said via email.

Roybal hopes readers will learn from the book the importance of preserving a culture and a way of life. “This is one of the few places in the United States where you have this very unique population of Hispanic Americans who, as this constant movement of society occurs around them, is found in this region of the United States. northern New Mexico and recognize that this might be their last take on something they can call their own, ”he said.

But still, like a ghost from decades gone by, a sign in a pasture near Tierra Amarilla reads: “Tierra o muerte (Earth or dead)” and includes an image of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.


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